In 1972, after graduating from college and moving to Sussex County, Bill Lord was not planning to open a landscaping business.
“When I first moved here, I was a teacher. I was just not destined to be a teacher. My wife Donna was. Her teaching job gave me the flexibility to try to do something I really wanted to do.”
Lord left education and answered a want-ad in the paper, and worked for a landscaper in Lewes for two years. He then decided to go out on his own and, with the help of his wife’s grandfather, Amos McCabe, was able to use for his budding business some of the property in Millville that once housed Delaware Quality Feeds.
“Amos let me use a little corner office there and a little patch of ground to store some stuff,” recalled Lord. “I’d watch out after him, do some jobs for him. He never had a son… He loved me right from the get-go. He took me hunting. I had never been hunting before, you know. I’m from Philadelphia.”
Thus, in 1978, Lord’s Landscaping opened with a total of two employees — including Lord himself.
“The timing couldn’t have been better,” said Lord, noting he had initially a few jobs “here and there… Then North Bethany kicked in.”
Landscaping the majority of North Bethany, including Sea-Del, helped establish Lord as one of the area’s go-to landscapers. Lord’s has since grown in terms of business offerings. But they are still operating out of the old feed mill.
Now, in its 39th year in the community, Lord’s daughter Amy Hughes and her husband, Pat, have joined the business, with a surprisingly similar story.
Amy, a 2004 Indian River High School graduate, studied education at the University of Delaware. Following her 2008 graduation, she taught at her high school alma mater for five years, and then moved to the Southern Delaware School of the Arts for two years, before joining the family business. Pat Hughes — who, along with Amy, joined the business in January — left his teaching job at Sussex Central High School.
Amy had worked part time at the business for a year and a half before making a fulltime transition to office manager, taking over the role from her mother.
“Once I had babies, she started watching them and I started working here,” said Amy Hughes. “I just started working here fulltime as of Jan. 1, of this year. It is all very new to me!”
But it’s not all new to Hughes, who worked at the family landscaping business while growing up.
“It was a lot of watering. The big joke is they used to make me clean the pond, and I did not like that. One day I just said, ‘I’m not doing this anymore,’” she recalled with a laugh. “They don’t have that pond anymore.”
Being a family-friendly business is important to Lord and Hughes, as their third generation of possibly future landscapers are some of the youngest visitors to the garden center.
“Now it’s pretty cool. There’s been a Pack ’n Play in that corner, and I’ve been bringing my daughter in,” said Hughes.
“We’ve had a lot of fun. It’s been great having my dad... He’ll peek his head out and crack jokes. It’s also great because now my mom is getting to know my kids, which has been a really cool part of it. Sometimes we’ll have been working late and we’ll go to the house to pick up the girls, and she’ll have dinner made.”
Bill Lord’s eldest, Mike, was involved in the family business as well; however, he recently decided to open his own landscaping business.
“He did what I did and went out on his own. Can’t fault him for that; it’s the American way,” said Lord.
Now having joined the family business, Hughes has put her touch on things — most noticeably, perhaps, in the newly revamped garden center.
“We have cleaned every closet; we have cleaned the attics. We have cleaned every single thing and have redone ever single part of the garden center. Every week, someone comes in and it looks completely different,” she laughed. “We’ve worked really, really hard the last two months.”
Along with the garden center, Lord’s also has commercial greenhouses, and offers landscape design and installation, as well as landscape maintenance.
“We have three different divisions to the business. One is the garden center, then my dad does the design work — he draws the plans — and then Cody Kuhnert runs our construction side of the business. So, whatever my dad plans out and draws, Cody has a crew that does that work. And, Pat does the maintenance, like the annual mulching, trimming, spring cleans, things like that,” said Hughes.
Both Lord and Hughes praised their loyal employees, including Joe “Big Joe” Valasus, Lindsey Thompson, Geraldina Cruz, Andrea Lewis, Sam Michels and A.J. Kelley, calling them driven, motivated and inspired.
“They have been really, really wonderful with me starting here and have been completely supportive of my crazy ideas. They’re so knowledgeable about how everything is run,” said Hughes. “They’re awesome.”
“Working down on the beach, designing landscapes, is about as cool as it gets for a left-brained guy like me,” added Lord. “I really think we all love what we’re doing. We get a lot of fun comments from people coming in saying, ‘If you ever need anybody, I’d love to come work here.’ I think that’s the attitude our employees have.”
Lord said he loves working out of a building built by his grandfather, and now sharing the business with his daughter, son-in-law and, sometimes, his grandchildren.
“It’s the quintessential family business.”
Lord’s Landscaping is located at 35577 Atlantic Avenue in Millville. For more information, call (302) 539-6119 or visit www.lordslandscaping.com.